The Wests Tigers won their last one all the way back in 2005, 13 years ago. That magical Premiership was based on the back of the merciless Benji Marshall. A player with the ‘crazy’ flick-pass. As for the Knights, they came close in 2013 going down 40-14 to the Roosters only a game before the Grand Final. While 2001 was the campaign in which they won their last Premiership. As for the Northern Beaches side, they last made the Big Dance in 2013 and won one in 2011 when they beat NZ 24-10.
How times change drastically though. The Tigers have undergone many, many changes since then including the sacking of Tim Sheens and Mick Potter. While now they are building towards the future under current-mastermind head coach Ivan Cleary. Newcastle too like their rivals are undergoing a massive rebuild. Wayne Bennett left them in all sorts and now Nathan Brown is slowly picking up the scattered bricks and building a house once again. As for the 2008 40-0 Premiership victors, they’ve massively fallen on hard times. They’re currently battling it out to avoid a first-ever Wooden Spoon. While in their most recent home game at the once was Fortress in Brookvale Oval, they got demolished to the tune of a 56-24 scoreline against Sydney.
Wests are in 9th, Newcastle 11th and Manly 13th. Manly won’t be featured in the finals this season, while it would take a minor miracle for either of the other two sides to be doing so. However, at some point, one of these sides will have to win a Premiership again. Read on as to why any one of these sides has a legitimate shot at claiming it over the other two first in this race of pure desperation.
1: Ivan Cleary- So far in his first season at the helm he has compiled a very respectable 9-9 record. This is especially good considering last campaign Wests won seven games altogether. While if the refs had been on the Tigers side a little more he might have a couple more victories to date. At his previous coaching stops, he claimed the Dally M Coach of the Year Award while at Penrith and he made a Grand Final with the Warriors. He is a smart coach who is building a great squad for the future. Signing players like rep half Josh Reynolds indicate that. While his development of youth players such as 21-year-old Esan Marsters highlight that as well.
2: Veteran experience- From the previously mentioned Josh Reynolds to Chris McQueen to Luke Brooks, along with Tiger4life Chris Lawrence. Reynolds is a competitor who gives his all and knows what it takes to go deep into the end of the season. McQueen has six Origin appearances to his name along with 150+ games of NRL experience. While players such as Luke Brooks and especially Chris Lawrence have been at Wests for a while now and know what the club is all about and what it represents. Lawrence is an ever-tireless worker while Brooks is the man in the halves along with Reynolds that is currently tasked and will also in the future be tasked with leading his side to glory.
1: Mitchell Pearce- 238 games for the Roosters, 18 for NSW and six for other combined representative sides, one unpleasant off-field incident and much scrutiny later he arrived at the Knights. And despite him featuring in only nine games this campaign he’s bagged two tries, eight try assists and among his highlights were a Round One match winning field-goal vs Manly up in Newcastle in what was the ultimate dream debut for him. He’s the most handsomely paid player in his side and a veteran who has won a Premiership and seen most of what the beautiful game has to offer. If Newcastle is to be challenging for a Premiership in the near future then it will be Pearce who’s spearheading it, there are no two ways about it.
2: Improvement, improvement, improvement!!!- Coming off three consecutive Wooden Spoons, most could forgive the entire organisation up in Newcastle if they just wanted to pack it in for a while. However they’ve done the exact opposite of that, they’ve showed that they care and in front of an incredibly passionate fan base they bought in Nathan Brown, bought new players and haven’t been afraid to recruit aggressively and fearlessly. For example, any knowledgeable fan knows they were major players in the Cooper Cronk sweepstakes before he eventually signed on with the Roosters. While they had five total wins last season and already have eight this campaign. Combined with more improvement next season, recruiting well again and expanding on their extremely talented young guns, Kalyn Ponga that’s you (142m per game along with five tries and 10 try assists) there’s absolutely no reason they can’t be fighting for a Premiership in the near future.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
1: The glory days of old- In 2007 the Sea Eagles real period of dominance started. They lost that year 34-8 to Melbourne in the Grand Final. Then only one campaign later they turned the tables on a Cameron Smith-less Storm in a thumping triumph. Then in 2009 & 2010 they were in the finals once again. Winning it again in 2011, coming oh so close in 2012 and losing in 2013 due to what was a very poorly officiated game. Dale-Cherry Evans was a part of that squad as he claimed the Clive Churchill Medal. That while Tom Trbojevic and Jake Trbojevic have replaced Brett “Snake” Stewart and the hard-hitting Anthony Watmough, two influential figures within the glory teams. Back then they had Steve Menzies and now Martin Taupau, a player with similar attacking instincts is on the board. They have the players and us against them mentality to reclaim what was once theirs.
2: Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor. Boxing, what on earth does that have to do with the NRL and more specifically Manly? The Sea Eagles like Connor are crazily talented. Don’t believe me, just look at all the rep experience filtered throughout their side. But when they come up against the bigger, more talented teams AKA Floyd, fight as they will, they’re never going to win. However like McGregor did against Mayweather, Manly has pushed some of the competition’s heavyweights all the way this season. Not too long ago Melbourne only beat them by a point. While earlier in the season the Roosters only beat them by two. While among their scalps from this campaign have been victories over all of the Storm, Panthers and Broncos, not too shabby!!! Provided they can build upon and build their squad up over the next few seasons, that fighters mentality can only serve them well as they chase a ninth Premiership.
Decision time; Who’ll get there first?
Manly will. And yes, that is despite both the other clubs being currently ahead of them on the ladder. If fully healthy and able to retain their key players, the Sea Eagles starting 13 would feature the Trbojevic brothers, Dylan Walker, Taupau, with both DCE and Trent Hodkinson in the halves. They’d be backed up by a solid defence including no-nonsense players such as Addin Fonua Blake (93% tackle success rate this season), Frank Winterstein who has a 96% tackle rate and Joel Thompson with 94%. Combined with a solid bench and coach, there’s no reason Manly can’t be competing at a high level again next season. Combined with this, if Manly start winning and early then the crowds will be there. Despite their struggles, Brookie has attracted some decent numbers this season. The players + the crowds could be a lethal combination. And because it’s Manly, you never know what’ll happen. Could Manly have a Premiership within the next 2-3 seasons, it’s a real damn possibility whether people like it or not!!!
Which club will add to their Premiership honours first? Let us know in the comments and poll below.
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